Fresh Faces, Universal Access, and Really Plain Text

Last time I wrote about the goings on surrounding Planet *buntu, I went on about one of my favorite topics; open formats and the future of information. By information, I mean content in all its wondrous forms, from plain text, to Web content, to music, to video, and to everything in between. Sadly, I find myself wanting to rant again on this topic even if it means laying into one of my favorite corporations. So I decided to start with something positive and friendly; something of beauty to prepare you for the ugliness to follow. It's only fair and it will, I hope ease the pain.

So let's go back a few days . . . It was February the 11th; my wife and I went out to a superb dinner at Benjamin's Restaurant in St. Jacobs, Ontario. My parents were babysitting and Sally and I had the evening to ourselves. It was a perfect way to celebrate the big day. Earlier that day, I received an early Valentine's Day present from Kubuntu and the KDE folk. Yes, KDE 4.4 was released to the Kubuntu repositories so I wasted no time in upgrading.

The 4.4 release will be come with Kubuntu 10.04, that old Lucid Lynx, but it was backported to 9.10 for those of us who prefer to run a stable release over alpha code. I'll tell you how to add those repositories to your system in a moment, but let me start by telling you about KDE 4.4.

It's so beautiful, I think I'm going to cry (see Figure 1 -- click for a full sized image).

Before you say that I don't care about GNOME, let me tell you that I have also been using GNOME a fair bit lately. Specifically, I've been playing with the gnome-shell, a package you can install directly from the repos if you are running a recent Ubuntu and a package you really should take a look at of you want to see where things are headed in the GNOME world.

Actually, a surprising amount of controversy surrounds the GNOME shell, perhaps because it is quite the departure from the old way of doing GNOME. It is, however, quite an attractiive reinventing of the GNOME environment. I personally really love it. Seriously. Yeah, it needs as little bit of work, but running the GNOME shell, I feel like GNOME is finally growing up. You know, getting ready to leave home. In my opinion, it is definitely a step in the right direction (see Figure 2).

     gnome-shell --replace 

While you are in the GNOME shell, all you need to do is move your mouse into the right hand corner of the desktop and it will open up the workspaces controls on the left hand side of your screen. You can start programs, visit defined places, peruse or open recent documents, and launch programs. Over to the left are your workspaces, presented in a way that looks a little like what KDE 4.4 and Plasma offers (although KDE has virtual desktops within workspaces). A plus sign inside a grey circle floats below and to the right of your last workspace. You add workspaces by clicking that plus sign and open applications in those workspaces. To zoom in to the workspace you want to use, just click on it. It will expand to fit your screen.

As I launch into the following tirade, it is important that you understand something. I love the CBC. That would be the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Generally speaking, I don't trust news networks. Sure, I follow the news from many different sources, but I take every report with a small grain of salt. That's because while there are many stations and newspapers, a small handful of corporations control the majority, making truly independent journalism a rarity. So I question, unless of course it's FOX News and its ilk in which case I take it for what it is; a colossal joke gone way too far -- it might have been funny when it started folks, but now people actually believe it. But I digress . . .

The CBC, however, is a news organization. A real news organization. I know that humans run all news organizations and as such, there can be opinions (and will be) but the CBC actually tries to keeps its opinions to itself and provide a balanced view of the news. I guess you could say they report rather than create news. Without a doubt they have people who express opinions, but those are clearly identified as opinion. Let's just say that the CBC has actual journalists working there.

You may disagree with me on the above -- feel free to -- but I say it to make it clear how I feel about the CBC before I launch into my tirade . . . sorry, I mean criticism . . . of the CBC.

If you are an Ubuntu or Kubuntu desktop user, or any other kind of Linux user for that matter, and you decide to visit the CBC to watch current videos of news stories, you'll wind up staring at and waiting for content that never comes. If you choose to click on the help link, you will see the following.

In case you are viewing this in a text-only browser, the site lists minimum system requirements as "Internet Explorer 7.0 or above, Firefox 2.0 or avoce, or Safari 2.0 or above" along with "Javascript and Cookies enabled", "Adobe Flash Player 9.0.115 or above", *ahem* "Microsoft Windows XP SP2 or later or Macintosh OS X", and "1 GB" of RAM. The, there's a bulled that states "At this time Linux is not supported."

Apparently, in 2010, the CBC can't serve up content to Linux users. In the Web 2.0+ world of universal access and wide open content delivery, the CBC can't produce content viewable on browsers used by millions of people (Firefox, Google Chrome, etc) under Linux. Flash, whatever you may think of the format, is well supported on Linux, certainly well enough to allow we Linux users to view the gazillion YouTube videos uploaded each day. But the CBC, or perhaps just the people they hire, don't know that in 2010, it is possible to deliver audio, video, and text content to pretty much any graphical browser in the known universe. Obviously, those people are still using reference texts from 1998 and just now learning about CSS. HTML3 is still just a glimmer in their eye and ActiveX seems like a pretty cool idea.

I did hint that this was a bit of a tirade.

This isn't a technological impossibility folks. Any kid sitting at his or her computer at home is able to produce and upload video content that Linux users can view, whether we like it or not. Why can't the CBC? And if the CBC is choosing to develop applications that will only work on Windows (or a properly tuned Mac), then it's a monumentally stupid decision. Public content should be accessible to the public and the CBC is a national corporation whose purpose it to serve the people whose taxes assist in paying for the corporation's continued existence. That means people running Linux as well (and there are a lot of us out there).

Seriously, it's 2010. Universal access and platform agnostic content delivery is not only possible, it's what's called a standard and any Web developer worth their hourly rate should be able to produce content that Firefox running under Linux, with the appropriate plugin (yes, I'm talking about Flash right now -- don't want to confuse things), can view. This redesign has catapulted the CBC's Website backward several years.

Closed formats are bad. DRM is a stupid idea. Producing OS specific content for the Web is equally stupid.

Please, good people at the CBC. I still love you guys, but you are really putting a strain on our relationship. Rethink and retool. "There is still time . . . Brother."

And since I'd like to leave this on a positive note, allow me a moment to share a fascinating little word processor with you.

I write a fair bit. In fact, I write pretty much every day. A lot of what I do necessitates using rich content editors and word processors. Graphics are a big part of what I do so I use for word processing and various Web-based tools for creating content there (I am writing this using Drupal and the FCKeditor). But every onece in a while, I just want to create plain old text. Most writers will tell you that it's frightfully easy to find distractions. Most of us love having written but hate writing (to paraphrase Dorothy Parker) because, let's face it, writing is hard, usually lonely, work. When you're alone for hours, your mind naturally seeks out whatever distraction it can find, and that includes the italics and bold buttons, the font changes, the spell checker, all those pretty icons, and of course, the greatest distraction ever created, the Web browser. As an aside, my friend Robert Sawyer, has a PC set up that doesn't let him surf the Web. He also writes using an old DOS editor, Wordstar.

I've made fun of Rob in the past about this but I am starting to think he may have been right all along -- please, please, don't tell him. Lately, when I am immersed in plain text work, I have been using JDarkRoom, a very plain full-screen text file editor with none of the usual bells and whistles. And I mean none (see Figure 4).

You get a black screen with a flashing cursor. That's it. There's nothing there to distract you from the job of writing. It's just you, your words, and your thoughts. And it's strangely freeing. If you're a writer, working on a modern, high-tech Linux desktop, and you're easily distracted, visit the JDarkRoom site and download a copy. You'll get a in hand. If you are writing a speech, novel, essay, thesis or just need to be able to concentrate on your writing, then JDarkRoom (based on a Mac application called WriteRoom) may help you.

You do need a Java runtime environment to run it. Do so with this command.

     java -jar JDarkRoom.jar

Remember to press Ctrl+H for a little help getting started. After all, the darkness can be a tad confusing.

Until next time . . .


Shame on CBC for thwarting free flow of information

I run Mint Isadora and Firefox 3.6.8.

I can view the intro ad to CBC content, but not the content.

Interestingly, the small Jolicloud distro based on Ubuntu Linux accesses CBC content without glitches, but Jolicloud is unstable and not practical in other respects. There has been discussion elsewhere on the net as to why this is so, but the technicalities are above my head.

I would simply like to occasionally watch CBC without problems. France 24 seems to me a model for the best technical delivery. US news in general is adequate, but slow and ponderous.

It seems that the CBC, as a public service, should make its delivery accessible to all its constituents-- including minorities that use non-proprietary OS's. In 2010, sigh, many pay lip service to unencumbered free flow of information, but the reality is quite different isn't it?

In any discussion of freedom of speech, people should take note of those countries that thwart the free flow of information by denying users of non-proprietary software access to content. Canada is certainly not alone here, but it is dispiriting in that the CBC appears to value higher standards than many other countries with respect to reporting news.

I thank the author of this article for criticizing the CBC and for showing clearly how it says "No" to Linux users.

I hope that change to a "Yes" soon.

CBC and Linux

Even though I live in Silicon Valley I've often looked to CBC for hockey news, especially abput Canadian teams. I know how frustrating for Canadians to see black rectangles where Windows and Mac users see videos because I'm with you.

Do you suppose that Marcel's super article will be the squeaky wheel that gets some attention? Let's hope so.

+1 for console editors

I also looked at various fullscreen plain text editors for awhile...and then I learned about the console. I now use emacs, but nano's great too if you are nervous about bells and whistles.

CBC does not work in Linux


I just tried this url

try this one as well:

They hung, nothing happened. Would someone like to try it as well, I would like to hear from
a person who claims that everything works on Linux from the CBC

OK this one worked

This one did not:

It looks like if they want to get things done right, the CBC has to rely on McDonalds for help.

John Kerr
Guelph, Ontario

I suspect this is mostly a DRM issue

There's plenty of flash on the CBC site, and aside from (most) broadcast content, it all displays just fine. On the radio side (where I spend most of my time with CBC) the radio streaming and podcasts work just fine -- except for a significant number of items which are openly labelled as not available due to copyright issues (at least one, "O'Reilly's Age of Persuasion" was eventually moved into the "available" category, after over a year of of effort by O'Reilly production).

CBC does appear to be a Windows shop, and not that well run. For example, for several years now their apparently MS SQL based web-accessible Radio Schedule has been unable to reliably present (reliably un-reliable) the correct broadcast schedule -- at least for the western-provinces listening audience. After a while I gave up e-mailing them about it, as no change ever resulted.

So it could be either incompetence, or DRM issues. And it is also possible, considering the enduring string of deep and unpredictable fiscal cutbacks at the hands of both "Liberal" and "Conservative" federal governments, that they feel they have graver concerns to occupy themselves with, and see "oddball" Linux-users' petitions as a distraction and unjustifiable expense.

The saga in Quebec

To my dear friend in the Eastern Townships... the only reason partially works in OpenSuse is because the Ubuntu Quebec community organized and complained about it:

Marcel, join the club. While everyone celebrates our media heritage is being handed over to proprietary formats and huge cash sinks, we keep being ignored and treated like weird creatures.

This means right now I can't care less about Canadian online content.

CBC Videos

I also went to CBS running ubuntu 10.04 and I could see all videos


The CBC video content on Linux

I run a small computer service shop in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, So a number of my customers run OpenSUSE 11.1 and 11.2 on average machine. All are configured to play multimedia content from music CDs to DIVX and DVD films, view youtube content, etc.
Radio-Canada has just created a little while ago a multimedia site containing past shows for reviewing. It is called Naturally, none of my customers could look at any of it's content.
So i decided to verify those complaints by myself on a Linux machine in the chop. A 2,6 MHz Celeron with 1Gb Ram running OpenSUSE 11.2.
I succeeded to look at some programs at the rate of 1 out of 7 or 8 approximately.
One of my customers decided to get his news on other sites and no longer bother about the SRC (Société Radio Canada (CBC)). I agreed with him for the while i find a solution and went further to advise all others with a note asking them to forget about it for a while.

I enjoyed your text, i found it is quite to the point. I hope it gets into the hands of the right people.

Bertrand D. Beaudoin
President Owner
Oui-Yes Informatique pour Tous! - Computing for All!

KDE 4.4 repositories

Did you indicate how to add the KDE 4.4 repositories to 9.10?

CBC Videos

I just went to CBC's site and was watching their videos with no problem. I'm running Linux Mint 7 and Firefox 3.0.17.

Plain text editor

So, let me get this straight: you're recommending a plain text editor written in Java that you have to download and run using the Java runtime. On Linux?
Talking about beating around the bush!
Aren't there enough plain text editors out there already; just fire up your favorite terminal, press F11 (or whatever the fullscreen shorcut is on your desktop) and start writing in vi(m), emacs, nano, joe, pico, elvis, or whichever scratcher your itch.

The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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